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Nestle CFO Polman Reported to Be CEO Pick

Veteran P&G executive, at the Swiss food giant since 2005, would be first "outsider" at Nestle's helm since the '20s.
Stephen TaubSeptember 17, 2007

Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, is expected to name current chief financial officer Paul Polman as its new chief executive, according to a number of published reports. The reports predicted that official word could break on Thursday.

Polman joined Nestle in 2005 after a quarter-century at Procter & Gamble, where he was credited with turning around its European business. At Nestle, he would replace CEO Peter Brabeck, who is expected to serve as group chairman.

“Paul Polman is going to be the new CEO; that has been become known high up,” a Nestle-manager told the Swiss newspaper Sonntag, according to Reuters. The paper stressed that the official word from Nestle spokesman Francois Perroud was that nobody knew in the company who would be named to the top spot.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Polman would be the first Nestle CEO since the 1920s who did not climb through its own ranks.

With $82.85 billion in annual sales, Nestle manages a variety of brands, from Stouffers to Perrier to the Jenny Craig weight-loss operation, to go with its signature chocolate products. It has also been among the world’s most acquisitive concerns, purchasing the Gerber baby food division of Novartis for $5.5 billion earlier this year, for example.

According to The Journal, Polman has already introduced something of the P&G management style at Nestle, eliminating weak-selling products and setting aggressive profit targets for key divisions, including nutrition. The paper also said he had forced several struggling operations, such as its U.S. ice-cream and UK candy businesses, to report their results each month.

The selection of Polman, however, would not represent a total culture shock at the Swiss food giant. He was born in a small town in the Netherlands and has spent most of his career working in Europe, and speaks English, Dutch, French, Spanish and German.